Dellin Betances took baseball’s 3 ½-month shutdown in stride.
As spring training was shuttered in March, the Mets reliever was still building up strength in his left ankle after spending the offseason rehabbing from a torn left Achilles. Now, the right-hander would like to believe he’s ready for the lesser grind of a 60-game schedule, on a stronger ankle.
“For me it was kind of a blessing in disguise,” Betances said Sunday, referring to the COVID-19 shutdown. “I felt like I was going to be ready to start the season, but probably not where I would have liked to have been, so right now I think I’m heading in the right direction and we have about three weeks to be ready and I’ll be ready to rock.”
Betances faced seven batters in a simulated game at Citi Field on Sunday, the first of about seven appearances he expects to receive against hitters before the Mets’ opener on July 24. Last season Betances appeared in only one game for the Yankees, spending much of the season rehabbing from a shoulder impingement and lat injury before tearing the Achilles in his season debut in September.
The Mets, desperate for bullpen help, signed the former All-Star to a one-year deal worth $10.5 million. Of that, $5.3 million came as a guaranteed signing bonus — a significant detail given that most players are taking huge pay reductions this season based on the abbreviated schedule.
Betances worked out in recent weeks at a facility near his home in New Jersey and said he got to face Aaron Judge, Todd Frazier and Joe Panik, among other major league players working out in the same locale.
Betances was still searching for his fastball when the Grapefruit League concluded — he was peaking around 91 mph. Where is he now?
“I’m not sure, but I think it’s better than spring training,” he said.
Betances’ wife, Janisa, is pregnant with the couple’s second child and due to give birth near the end of the regular season. The pitcher indicated his intent is to keep going, even as other players with expecting partners have expressed concern given the pandemic.
“I am definitely committed,” Betances said. “Our baby is due late September, so we’ll have a better idea how things are going on in this world and the baseball world as well, so I feel like I’m definitely committed. I will just try to protect myself and be safe at all costs.
“I think the Mets are doing a tremendous job to make sure that we keep our distance and everybody is being as safe as they can. For me I haven’t played in a couple of years, and I want to play, but at the same time I know I have to be safe, for myself and my family as well.”
Betances, if healthy, would give the Mets another option at closer should Edwin Diaz struggle. Manager Luis Rojas, publicly at least, says he hasn’t set any roles for his relievers. But it would be surprising if anybody other than Diaz began the season as the closer — despite his struggles last year — given the amount of talent the Mets surrendered to acquire him from the Mariners with Robinson Cano.
“[Betances] is just a great asset,” Rojas said. “He’s one of the guys … he’s got that potential closer ability and it gives us that depth in a short season.”